Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Seed Saver or Plant Breeder

I'm not really sure about all this "must save own seeds" movement. Sure its fun to do now and then and a very noble idea to want to "Save the Planet" and stop "Big Pharm" from owning all the seeds but in reality, like a lot of things, there is so much more to it.

I have since discovered that some people are incredibly passionate about the subject, what seeds to save, what companies to trust, what conspiracy theories to up hold. And if you dare not save your own seeds you will be cast aside like a smelly sock to wander alone down life's garden path.

So what did I do when faced with this dilemma? Why gave in to societies pressure of course and began saving my own seeds .... I didn't want people to frown or look down upon me because I dared purchase seeds from a big seed company *Shock Horror!*... I didn't want to be viewed as a second rate gardener or as a person who didn't care about the planet ...

I wanted to be liked and accepted so I followed along and this is what I discovered ... that's its way more complicated than I first thought .... you see there are 2 ways to save (breed) seed  ... there are those of us who use the "Willy Nilly" method of saving seeds (umm that would be me) and then there are the ....... drum roll please ....* Plant Breeders * .....ta dah ..... I have nothing but admiration for experienced plant breeders who put their heart and soul into breeding quality plants, taking meticulous care to select characteristics that enhance rather than detract and I am happy to pay good money for well bred seeds.

I can fool myself and pretend to be a plant breeder but in reality the opposite is true. Knowing what qualities and characteristics to preserve through selective breeding requires skill which I don't possess although my seed saving efforts did produced some interesting *cough* specimens ....   
This is the end result of my onion experiment ....The original intention was to save the seeds from some of the brown onions  ... simple enough .... you'd think .... anyway someone forgot about the white onions lurking in a different part of the garden and umm ... well  .... not long after that things got a bit more complicated .... long story short I created a big " Brown White "onion  .... yup ....

I name him " Big Onion Guy Who Will Not Die"

It just kept growing and growing and refused to stop growing ... I even pushed over all the leaves to induce death but it sprung back up good as new ... talk about freaky in a fascinating sort of way .. what the heck had I created? .... maybe I should have been a bit more selective in what I was after when choosing the breeding stock of the original onions. Although to be fair the hybrid onions produced from this brown/white onion crossing had excellent keeping quality so 2 thumbs up for that.

anyhoo "Big Onion Guy" eventually annoyed the crappola out of me so I removed him, but not before I took a photo of course .....all the other onions had been removed from the bed months ago (some of the others were weird looking too but obviously not weird enough looking to warrant their photo being taken).... this is the result of willy nilly seed saving compared to selective breeding  .... can you imagine the size of the piece a steak you would need to put that sucker on?

The following information is from the "Seed Savers Hand Book" by Michel & Jude Fanton 1993

How to save onions seeds:
1) To ensure purity, only one type of onion should be allowed to flower in the second spring
2) Onion plants need to be within a radius of 400 metres of each other
3) a minimum of 20 onion plants must be saved to maintain diversity for the long term.
4) Onions are pollinated by insects
** Some plant breeders introduce pollinating insects into the cages in which onions are isolated**.
5) Choose well-formed and firm onions for seed purposes.
6) Seeds are ripe when the stalk changes colour to brownish. The seeds are black and the capsules begin to open and drop seeds if shaken.
7) Remove the heads and place into paper bags.
8) When dry shake the bag to remove the seeds.

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